Richie Hawtin: DE9: Transitions

Tim O'Neil

Hawtin has not only produced one of the most singularly fascinating albums of the year, but taken the very concept of a mixed CD into unprecedented territory.

Richie Hawtin

DE9: Transitions

Label: Novamute
US Release Date: 2005-11-15
UK Release Date: 2005-10-31
Amazon affiliate

The last few years have been very good for techno. It never really went away but it was quiet for a long time, a steady background hum in the general scheme of electronic music. Other genres came and went according to the whims of fashion -- drum & bass and trance and progressive and electro and two-step -- but behind the scenes and under the surface techno remained very much a going concern.

Much as how the blues informs the heart of jazz, and punk defines the nature of rock, techno symbolizes the purest and most unadorned expression of electronic music. Here we see the music as it was conceived, and understand how it can still shock and surprise after all these years: this is the platonic ideal of sound divorced from concrete reality. This is music conceived in an artificial context, intended not to synthesize any known sound but to create something inarguably new and appealingly alien. It's the idea of music unfettered by the limitations of the strictly possible -- composition as science-fiction.

No artist enjoys such a central position in the modern techno universe as Richie Hawtin. Before Kompakt, before Ghostly, Hawtin was the superstar of the scene, a unique position he has not relinquished in almost a decade. Both under his own name and under the enigmatic nom de guerre Plastikman, Hawtin has remained one of the most consistent and prolific presences in the world of electronic music. Returning to his signature DE9 series, Hawtin has not only produced one of the most singularly fascinating albums of the year, but taken the very concept of a mixed CD into unprecedented territory. However, the enormous complexity of the accomplishment is such that it may be years before Hawtin's contributions can be assimilated by the mainstream of DJ culture.

As technology continues to expand into the mental space of the musician at a rate which would have been unfathomable just ten years ago, the very act of DJing continues to be transformed. There is some question in my mind whether or not Transistions can even be considered a DJ mix anymore, because there is simply no way that the effects herein could be achieved spontaneously. This is something new, something that shares as much with cut-and-paste collages like DJ Shadow's Entroducing... and the Avalanches' Since I Left You as with any conventional DJ mix.

But it must also be said that while Transitions is a work of unprecedented craftsmanship, as it is designed it is also intricate to the point of absurdity. As Hawtin explains in the liner notes, the mix was originally conceived not as an 79-minute-long CD but a 96-minute-long DVD. The "master" mix, included on the DVD which accompanies the CD, is designed to be heard in a precisely-calibrated 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo environment. Hawtin elaborates: "...the exploration of the transition is not only limited to the X & Y (time & amplitude) planes of sound, but also in the Z plane (depth) of space, opening up the mix for the first time into a fully encompassing surround sound environment." The featurette included on the DVD includes a visit to the studio where Hawtin laid down the final mix for the surround sound version -- it is impressively complex.

What all of this means, however, is that you probably don't have a stereo system that can fully appreciate the multiple layers of nuance involved in Transitions. I have a pretty nice system, and I'll admit that I just couldn't get a lot of stereo effects, while listening to the DVD, that weren't already present on the CD. The DVD version of the mix is an audiophile's wet dream, but most people will probably never hear the mix in the pristine environment for which it was intended. There is something unabashedly futile in that.

But the genius of Transitions lies in the way in which the accumulation of tiny microscopic detail adds up to a massively impressive whole that can be readily appreciated regardless of your stereo's limitations. The mix is not composed of individual songs or tracks. Instead, Hawtin has isolated sections of almost a hundred individual tracks -- sections that range from sampled measures in their entirety to isolated basslines or even single notes. The effect, as you can imagine, is such that any notion of individually demarcated tracks disappears. Everything on the disc blends and shuffles together, and the result is less a DJ mix -- with the customary distinctive highs, lows and peaks -- but a wholly novel 96-minute composition.

However, despite allusions to modernist utility and technological precision, the mix never looses sight of the sensual possibilities of the unyielding beat. From almost the very first moment until the end, the beat carries the mix forward, a very real and constant reminder of the sexual implications of any steady, pulsating rhythm. Just in case you forgot, however, Hawtin throws in an obvious sample of the Detroit Grand Pubahs' lascivious "Dr. Bootygrabber" as a reminder that techno is more than just the sum of its ascetic pretenses. There's a lot of emotion here, from the sexual to the serene, and the end result is something just this side of numinous.

The first DE9 mix, 1999's Decks, EFX & 909, was a comparatively simple affair, featuring Hawtin mixing records with the aid of a 909 rhythm machine and limited effects boxes. It was still recognizably a DJ mix, but there were the beginnings of something more expansive. 2001's Closer to the Edit was the first hint of something truly radical, a mix composed of dozens of tiny micro-samples woven together to create an intricate whole. Transitions obviates the boundaries of individual tracks entirely, dismantling the very notion of DJ mixing as it exists in favor of something far more organic and indivisible. I can't say that I believe too many DJs will follow Hawtin's lead -- this is simply too involved and demanding a trick to interest many. But the outer limits of today's boundaries will become the settled frontiers of tomorrow. Hawtin continues to stretch the boundaries, redefining the very concept of music to suit his whims.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.